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  1. (Random 80s player, probably flopping.) With all due reverence to the Clinton-Dix family, Ha-Ha Danny Ainge! It’s almost time to nail down Thanksgiving reservations, but Ainge’s Celtics and the 76ers are already locked in for the 2019 NBA Draft next summer. Boston and Philly already have their knives and forks out at the table of the Sacramento Kings, who are tired of being everybody’s turkey. The Sixers had already swindled the pick out of Vlade Divac. The newly-hired GM’s team, in 2015, was desperate to clear cap space for veteran free agents (Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, and “RONDOOOO!”) to pair with Boogie Cousins and coach George Karl, but he had a roster and a payroll congested with ne’er-do-wells. Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson were sent packing to Philly, along with annual pick swaps and a protected 1st-rounder. Sacramento’s top-10-protected pick didn’t convey (obvsly) after last season. It’s now unprotected for next summer’s draft, having Philadelphia licking their lips at the prospect of being rewarded by the Kings watching the playoffs from home for the 13th consecutive year. But Ainge got cute, and as the 2017 Draft approached, the draft pick whore decided to pull off a bit of a heist to outsmart his division rival. With his 53-win team having won the Draft Lottery (thanks, Brooklyn!), Danny Boy collared the Colangelos, “gifting” them the top draft slot so Boston could “settle” for Jayson Tatum. In return, the Celts were allowed a chance at the Lakers’ 2018 pick, if it fell between spots #2 - #5 (NARRATOR: IT DID NOT), or either of the Sixers’ and the Kings’ picks in 2019, depending in part on whether the more favorable of the picks winds up first-overall (NARRATOR: THE SIXERS’ PICK WILL NOT). Taken altogether, the Kings’ 2019 pick looked quite appetizing from afar, and either the Sixers or the Celtics will get to chow down on it, unless they manage to leverage the pick to swindle somebody else. Plot Twist! What if (gasp!) the Sixers’ pick winds up the more favorable of the two? What if (double gasp!) neither of those picks are of lottery quality after all? It’s early in the 2018-19 season, but the Kings (5-3) are doing all they can to stick it to both of those teams. They could claim their fifth-consecutive victory today at State Farm Arena against the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; NBC Sports California in SAC), a team that’s not quite ready for primetime. The Kings have been treated like royalty on the road lately, sweeping back-to-back games at Miami and Orlando before leaving the Peninsula for the ATL. Like the heat that will arrive here at the Deductible Dome on Saturday, coach Dave Joerger’s Kings were provided ample time and rest to prep for today’s meeting. Clash of the Titans! Besides a 2 Fast, 2 Spurious track meet between the league’s highest-tempo teams being a probable theme, keyed by young guards De’Aaron Fox (17.5 PPG, 6.9 APG; listed probable with a back strain) and Trae Young (19.1 PPG, 6.6 APG), raise your hand if you anticipated a head-to-head between Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Len as key to the outcome of any NBA contest. It was just the Cavs again, but Len had another smooth offensive outing at The Q on Tuesday. He posted a perfect day from the field (9-for-9 FGs, incl. one 3FG), and contributed pairs of blocks and steals plus nine rebounds to go with his 22 points. Finishing shots at and near the rim remains a problem for the Hawks (10th in FGAs per game within 5 feet of the basket, 18th in FG% on those shots), but it’s hard to blame Len (72.2 FG% at-rim, 20.0 FG% elsewhere). Three of Young’s four dimes in Atlanta’s 136-114 defeat came from dishes to Len at the hoop, the final pair threatening to make the final score a single-digit affair in the final quarter. Cauley-Stein (17.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG) has grown more consistent, a regular double-double machine of late. Willie hasn’t been much of a deterrent around the rim, but now he’s got lottery stud Marvin Bagley (team-high 1.3 BPG) around to help him out. Kings leading scorer Buddy Hield (18.9 PPG, 44.7 3FG%, 6.1 RPG), Bagley and recent arrival Nemanja Bjelica (career-high 15.1 PPG and 6.5 RPG) are all helping Sacramento terminate opponent possessions as well as they have since the days when Boogie was trying to plug the dam by himself. If there has been a chink in the Kings’ armor in the early going, it has been abysmal free throw shooting, a league-worst 64.3 FT% that was only marginally better in their five away games (64.8 road FT%). They’ll get ample opportunity to improve that mark tonight at The Farm, where they have lost 11 straight games as a franchise, especially if a swingman hydra continues to play as it has. Kentean Princemore (7.3 personals per game; Taurean’s 3.9 ranking 5th in NBA after fouling out Tuesday for the second time this season) hasn’t been shy about hacking. But Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce will want Princemore to be more judicious and strategic about who and when it’s fouling, as it often disrupts the desired flow of Atlanta’s fastbreak and transition offense. Getting Princemore (6.3 TOs per game) to cut down on turnovers committed on drives (Atlanta’s 10.5 TO% on drives a league-worst) may not solve all of the Hawks’ offensive woes, but it can go a long way in keeping opponent leads from getting out of hand. More spot-up jumpers or, better yet, swinging the ball around the horn for hockey assists, are often better options for Atlanta’s starting two-headed wingman (4 assists, 9 TOs and 11 personal fouls @ CLE). Until Princemore figures things out, look for more net-positive contributions from reserves DeAndre’ Bembry (3-for-6 FGs, 4 assists, 1 TO @ CLE) and Kevin Huerter (3-for-4 3FGs). Having feasted lately on Dirty South Division opponents like the Hawks, Sacramento’s schedule gets much tougher after today, including a visit to unbeaten Milwaukee this weekend. On the other hand, the Kings’ most-efficient offensive player, second-year guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (out, arthroscopic knee surgery), is likely to return to action soon. Might Ainge get denied a juicy draft pick? It couldn’t happen to a nastier guy. Ainge, himself a former King back when the Celtics elected to enter the 1990s with Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney, was seething in the summer of 2017 when a pre-draft workout in Norcal was canceled by Josh Jackson, while he and the Celtics staff were in mid-flight. “Flew across the country, are you kidding me?”, whined Beantown’s GM. “I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.” When asked what he did with his suddenly free time, Ainge sneered. “There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.” Stay classy, Boston front office. Sacramento doesn’t yet have the look of a winning NBA team, but in the cutthroat Western Conference, hovering anywhere near the .500 line could mean teasing for a playoff spot by season’s end. I doubt anyone in the East, outside of Philly or New England, would terribly mind that, especially if it means some lottery whore has to settle for a pick in the teens or twenties next summer, if at all. How’s your finger feeling these days, Danny? If you like, we have another finger we can offer you. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  2. Return of the... King? Temple... of Doom? ~lw3
  3. “Schröder HAS 20 SECONDS TO SET UP THE OFFENSE, OR ELSE I WILL RELEASE THE BAZE…” Issa Must Win! There will be plenty of days ahead to strategitank for our Atlanta Hawks, but not today! Back home at the Highlight Factory, they’ll look to raise their season win total by 50 percent tonight versus the Sacramento Kings (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, NBC Sports California). The Kings (3-10), like the Hawks, arrive with just one road win under their belt, at Dallas last month. Sactown has the league’s worst road Net Rating of -15.8. They conclude their brief East Coast swing licking their wounds after consecutive blowout road losses, at MSG and at Washington. The stars are aligned for the Hawks, if they so choose, to get off the schneid, if only for a brief moment, and collect their first win in front of a sparse but head-nodding Philips Arena crowd. Similar to the road-wearier Hawks (50.6 road 2FG%, 7th-lowest in NBA; 38.4 road 3FG%), the Kings are hitting three-pointers decently, but the interior offense has been a struggle (NBA-low 46.6 road 2FG%, but 38.6 road 3FG%). That they take as high a share of two-point field goals as anybody yet connect at the lowest percentage, hasn’t done much for offensive efficiency. They are leaving plenty of points on the table at the free throw line (70.4 road FT%, 28th in NBA), even though they haven’t been getting there terribly often. Former Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger guides his team as they play with a Memphis-style tempo (95.7 pace, lowest in NBA). To help disrupt the opposing Kings offense and produce extra quality possessions for his own team, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore (4.5 deflections per-36 and career-high 2.1 SPG, both 2nd in NBA) while be joined at times by Ersan Ilyasova, who will be brought along slowly after missing weeks with a bone bruise in his knee. With a shored-up frontline, the Hawks defense could use one more key contributor tonight. Real Plus/Minus data has never been terribly kind to Hawks point guard Dennis Schröder. He comes into today’s action ranked 420th among 421 NBA players in Defensive RPM, as per ESPN data. The good news for The Menace, tonight, is who checks in at #421. Rookie De’Aaron Fox has been granted ample playing time, perhaps more than was anticipated at the outset while free agent pickup George Hill (38.6 2FG%) worked through his struggles. Fox’s Lonzoian shooting splits (39.6/19.0/71.1) have been less than desirable. But both have been sound passers, neither averaging more than 2.0 TOs/game while splitting duties, keeping the Kings on solid ground in the area of transition defense (14.8 opponent points-per-48 off TOs, 4th-best in NBA). Young Dennis, why you trappin’ so hard? Atlanta (2-12) will need Schröder and the wing defenders to harass the primary ballhandlers and force the ball early in shot-clocks into the hands of teammates like former Grizzly great and leading scorer (!!!) Zach Randolph (12.7 PPG, 8-for-18 3FGs), or shooters like Buddy Hield (39.3 3FG%) or Garrett Temple (42.3 3FG%) who don’t fare as well when they must put the ball on the floor. Willie Cauley-Stein says, of guarding Kristaps Porzingis after the 118-91 loss to the Knicks, “I have the same body size, the same skill-level.” I may have the same crooked big toe as The Unicorn, but sadly that similarity doesn’t, in and of itself, translate into NBA superstar competency. “I think I gotta get more selfish,” says Cauley-Stein (2.1 APG, tops among the Kings’ non-point guards), which is probably not the best tack to take. Perhaps struggling with some early Stromile Swift Syndrome, the 2015 lottery pick has struggled to stand out in a log-jam by design. Joerger assigns ten Kings between 19 and 27 minutes each, shuffling veteran plodders like Z-Bo and Kosta Koufos with lighter fare, like second-year pro Skal Labissiere. After wrangling with the likes of Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins and Marcin Gortat in recent days, Dewayne Dedmon (13 minutes in the Hawks’ 106-105 loss @ NOP, 5-for-5 FGs) and rookie John Collins (16.5 O-Reb%, 4th in NBA) should be able to find amenable matchups that keep them on the court for longer, more positively impactful tenures. Sacramento 15.2 opponent second-chance points per-48 is the highest in the league, while their 73.7 D-Reb% ranks next-to-last. There should be enough options available for Schröder to make connections all across the floor, and not be satisfied with being funneled into fruitless straight-line drives, as was too often the case in recent losses (last 2 games: 7-for-34 FGs, 5.0 APG, 4.0 TOs/game). Schröder has to show that between he and Fox, when matched up, Dennis is the superior defensive player, and not just by default. As most Californians would agree, 420 > 421, always. Some fans, dreaming of future tie-breaker possibilities, want the Hawks to drop early games to similarly downtrodden competition like the Kings. But with 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 M’s in their respective bank accounts, this is one game where Hawks players should want to be stuntin’ and flexin’ their muscles, and reppin’ the ATL well. As the Hawks have been the most accurate three-point-shooting squad (41.4 3FG%, better than Golden State’s 41.2%) over the past ten games, how many Atlanta jump shooters will be at the ready to gun these Kings down? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  4. On his way across the pond, finally? http://www.sportando.com/en/usa/nba/238820/bogdan-bogdanovic-reportedly-agreed-to-a-three-year-dollars30-mln-deal-with-the-kings.html ~lw3
  5. "Is Matt Barnes gonna hafta..." "This was all one big misunderstanding!!!" ((Ctrl+C)) ((Ctrl+V)) Thabo's lawyer Spiro must get like no sleep these days. Kangs: "We have standards! Ain't that right, Ty? Ty???" ~lw3
  6. “When I was 25… it was a, very, good year…” Which NBA team has wins over the following opponents under their belt: the Cavaliers, the Celtics, the Raptors (twice), the Warriors, the Jazz, the Grizzlies, the Thunder? How ‘bout those Sacramento Kings? They get a visit from the Hawks tonight (10:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; CSN Bay Area in SAC), as Atlanta concludes their pre-All-Star Break schedule with a three-game West Coast trip. Somewhere in Norcal, All-Star Paul Millsap woke up this morning discovering he just turned 29 years of age for the fourth consecutive year (one year fewer than ex-Hawk favorite Zaza Pachulia). Millsap can take solace in knowing he will always be four days younger than Kris Humphries. Hump and Sap awoke to the knowledge that their Hawks are tied with Boston for the best road record (15-11) in the Eastern Conference. At least for a day, Atlanta can have the top spot all to themselves with a win tonight against a Kings team that, as the Celts can attest, can upend decent teams whenever they put their mind to it. Sacramento (21-32) has lost 10 of their past 15 games, and are supposed to be reeling from the loss of would-be trade chip Rudy Gay (Achilles) for the season. But following are the five wins during this latest stretch. There was a road win in Detroit, an overtime road win in Cleveland, a road win in Charlotte, an overtime win back home, at the new Golden 1 Center against Golden State. And, on Wednesday, a convincing win without DeMarcus Cousins against the Celtics. The last victory denied frog-faced MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas a triumphant return against the team that signed-and-traded the 2014 restricted free agent for Alex Oriakhi and am unused trade exception (Where have you gone, Pete D’Alessandro?) Aside from his routinely abused ego, Cousins was not sidelined due to injury. The surly center was suspended, as mandated by the league, for the Boston game after collecting his 16th (non-rescinded) technical foul. Boogie shattered the fastest-to-16-techs record previously held by Dwight Howard (8 tech fouls this season), who was at least mindful enough in 2011 to wait until after the All-Star Break (March 5). Beyond Cousins and Gay, the Kings were already going into the Celtics game without recent starter Garrett Temple (out with torn hammy), and bench swingman Omri Casspi (out with calf strain). After starting point guard Ty Lawson (doubtful for tonight) hobbled off with a thigh strain midway through the second quarter on Wednesday, Sacto soldiered on without four of their top six scorers on the season. Then, a funny thing happened: under the direction of former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, the shorthanded Kings got a bit of modified grit-and-grind going. After cruising to a 28-19 first-quarter lead, the Celtics couldn’t exceed 22 points in any of the next three stanzas. Former Grizzly Matt Barnes chipped in with 11 defensive rebounds, four assists, and three triples. Also coming off the bench, much-maligned guard Ben McLemore surprised with 17 points in the second and third quarters. The King of the 4th Quarter turned out not to be Thomas (26 points, but 6-for-16 FGs), but backup center Willie Cauley-Stein, who dazzled the Kings crowd with a highlight-filled 10 points to help close out the contest. Perhaps the team’s most-desired trade commodity in Gay’s absence, B-Mac is likely to return to the Kings’ starting lineup tonight. The Kings are 4-18 when their opponent’s bench outscores their own, so productive outings from Malcolm Delaney, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries, and either rookie Taurean Prince or DeAndre’ Bembry (5-for-7 FGs in the win vs. DEN on Wednesday) will make it easier for Atlanta’s starters to close out late. Not that it should be necessary, but if anyone could help with scouting Sacramento’s bench brigade, it would be Lamar Patterson. Recently signed to a second 10-day contract, Patterson spent his time in training camp and preseason with the Kings, after being claimed off waivers from the Hawks over the summer, then starred with the Kings’ D-League outfit in Reno. His familiarity should only help the Hawks’ backcourt exploit a group of Sacramento guards (inclusive of the injured Lawson and Temple) that rank 28th in D-Rating on the season. Barnes is assisting not only as a help-rebounder, but as an emergency backup for Darren Collison (26 points, 12-for-21 FGs vs. BOS on Wednesday), who slides back into the point guard slot with Lawson’s latest injury. Tonight’s game will be a contest of composure for the Hawks. Cousins (career-highs of 27.9 PPG, 36.6 3FG%, and 4.7 APG) will again be at his letter-best with the ball in his hands. But he and Barnes will work throughout the game to try unnerving Howard, Dennis Schroder (10-for-15 2FGs, 10 assists, 3 TOs vs. DEN on Wednesday), and Kent Bazemore into mistakes and foul trouble. Boston players managed just 18 assists and 17 turnovers on Wednesday, so successfully stifling Atlanta’s ball movement should similarly gain the Kings an upper hand. When last these teams met on Halloween night, the Hawks could not be tricked out of delivering treats to one another. Atlanta players committed just 13 turnovers and dished out 24 assists (8 from the hands of birthday-boy Millsap) in a 106-95 win. A lot of those buckets came from Kyle Korver (5-for-8 3FGs), who now plies his wares in Cleveland, all of his made shots in the contest assisted by Atlanta bigs. Perimeter shots from the offensively-improving Bazemore (3-for-4 3FGs vs. DEN; 46.3 3FG% in last 10 games) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. ought to fill in the gap left by Korver tonight. Led in scoring by Gay’s 22 points on Halloween, the Kings used a 37-point third-quarter to go up by two, after falling behind by 13 earlier. A fourth-quarter surge by Millsap and Bazemore helped turn the tables, while defense from Howard and Thabo Sefolosha (out with groin strain) put that game out of reach. Cousins was effectively neutralized (6-for-16 FGs, incl. 1-for-5 3FGs; 1-for-3 FTs, 4 TOs and 5 personal fouls) on the offensive end in that game, and suppressing the Kings’ offense tonight includes keeping DMC (career-high 7.6 FTs per game) and Collison (86.3 FT%) off the free throw line. Schroder (3 steals vs. DEN) will be tasked with pressuring the ball, thwarting dribble penetration, and compelling Collison to rely on others to handle the ball in the Kings’ halfcourt offense. With Howard switching off of Kosta Koufos to attend to Cousins, Millsap will be burdened primarily with having to keep Koufos from gathering offensive boards, along with defending Anthony Tolliver (1-for-7 3FGs but 3 steals vs. BOS on Wednesday) around the 3-point line when the former Hawk comes in off the bench. While the Hawks can firm up the momentary title of Best Road Team in the East, the Kings are vying to avoid seizing petty Devin Booker’s Suns (8-17) for the claim of Worst Home Team in the West (10-15). It will take more than simply blowing out one of Millsap’s 32 candles for Atlanta to get their wishes granted tonight. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. “I like you. You like me. Let’s get out of S-A-C…” For the Sacramento Kings, who kick off their 5-game East Coast road swing this evening in Atlanta against the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South, 92.9 FM in ATL), it’s a golden age. They’ve got a new “Golden 1 Center” arena downtown. They’re coming in tonight with a sterling (for them) 2-1 record, the sole defeat coming at the hands of the Spurs on the tail end of a back-to-back. And, perhaps the best thing going thus far, the working relationship between Olympic gold medalist DeMarcus Cousins and his newest head coach, Dave Joerger, remains untarnished. Less than a week since tip-off, local media is already prodding Cousins for signs of discontentment off the court (it’s never difficult to find such signs on it). When asked to name a couple things that were positive about Joerger, the sixth head coach since “BOO!”gie arrived as a rookie six seasons ago, Cousins offered exactly that: a couple things. “I like him, and he likes me.” Well, considering all the grass-cutting, snake-showing, and back-stabbing that has gone on in recent years up in Norcal, those are probably the only factors that matter. Last season was largely deemed a disaster for the Kings, even as Cousins fumed, pouted and sulked his way through the best finish for the franchise (33-49; 29-36 with him, 4-13 without) since coach Reggie Theus was running the show back in 2008. Egged on by meddling owner Vivek Ranadive, then-coach George Karl pushed a league-high pace (highest by any team since Nellie’s Warriors in 2009-10) that was tough for DMC and his teammates (16.2 TOs per game, 28th in NBA) to maintain with any sense of cohesion. Speaking of pushing, Karl also pushed management to ship the moody Cousins (suspended thrice, fouled out 7 times) out of town behind the scenes, a failed endeavor that permanently soured whatever rapport they had. Slur-spitting, ref-bumping point guard Rajon Rondo helped Cousins (career-best 26.9 PPG, 1.1 3FGs per game in 2015-16; 3.3 APG, 3rd among qualifying centers) keep the Kings (17.7 assists per 100 possessions, 6th in NBA) from falling into the trap of DIY halfcourt basketball. Karl was officially given his walking papers after the season ended, and Rondo bailed for Chicago in free agency, leaving the Kings to settle on police-blotter subjects Darren Collison (currently suspended for domestic battery) and Ty Lawson (7.0 APG, 1.7 TO/game this season) to pick up where Rondo left off. Fresh from Grindhouse Memphis, Joerger is slowing things back down (27th in pace through 3 games) to a manageable level for the Kings. In return, though, he demands a modicum of defensive intensity from his players, something he has grown to expect even though his Grizzlies faded in 2016 under the weight of too many injuries. As the coach demonstrated in the first half of Saturday’s game versus visiting Minnesota, he’s willing to bench starters, including Cousins, that aren’t putting in the effort. That threat helped the Kings flip the script on the T-Wolves, going on a 24-1 third-quarter spurt after giving up 65 first-half points. Joerger’s can manage just fine if you miss a flight or two, but don’t miss his memo. Joerger brought along with him from Memphis free agent Matt Barnes, who has taken it upon himself to assume point-forward duties (9 assists, 3-for-6 3FGs vs. MIN) off the bench. Things are going as well as anyone could expect, which leads to the question that pops up anytime there’s an uptick in Skeptimento: How long can the good vibes possibly last? As Mayor KJ can attest, no matter how well festivities in Sacramento are meticulously planned, now matter how pleasant the proceedings, sooner or later, somebody’s gonna wind up with some pie on their face (probably coconut cream, if you must know the flavor). The Damocles’ sword hovers above Joerger, who remains committed to turning around Sacramento’s fortunes, but is paid by an owner who is at turns meddlesome and maniacal about how he wants his teams to play. Joerger wanted to push the pace in Memphis, but relented because of pushback from the vets on his roster when things weren’t going so hot at the outset. Here, he recognizes that he needs the tools to run with, before elevating the team tempo. But relying on players of the caliber of Arron Afflalo and former Hawk Anthony Tolliver suggests he’s not going to accomplish that for a season or two, barring some fortuitous trades. Does Ranadive, notorious for acting prematurely on former coach and Cousins confidant Mike Malone, have the patience to let Joerger see things through? Before the season could even begin, Rudy Gay (28 points on 11-for-20 shooting vs. MIN; $14.2 million player option for 2017-18) had his people advise the Kings’ brass that maybe it’s best for all parties that they stop seeing each other. Back when Karl took over the reins in early 2015, Gay met him with this Vincent Price-sounding introduction: “Welcome to Basketball Hell.” As often is the case with Karl himself, the urge to be brutally honest supersedes any sophistication that comes with biting one’s tongue. Ben McLemore (-15 plus/minus, but 2-for-4 3FGs vs. MIN), predictably, was not offered an extension deal, putting both he and Gay in Go-For-Yours mode offensively until they depart or get traded. Meanwhile, Barnes’ bench play so far has made perhaps the one person who truly wants to stick around, Omri Casspi, expendable. As for their All-Star, Cousins remained instead of Karl essentially for one reason: who’s face are you going to plaster outside your fancy new arena to sell tickets and hot dogs? Kosta Koufos? Willie Cauley-Stein? Yeah, sure. No matter what jersey he’s wearing, Cousins provides a unique challenge for Atlanta’s Dwight Howard, tonight and any night going forward. A big who can run the floor, pound away inside and now stretch the defense from the outside, Cousins (37 points, 16 rebounds, 3-for-5 3FGs vs. SAS last Thursday) roughly combines the youth and desire of Philly’s Joel Embiid with the skill and will of Washington’s Marcin Gortat. Boogie lives at the free throw line (NBA-high 49 attempts through 3 games, 80.4 FT%). So Dwight, who found himself in foul trouble early in Philadelphia, needs to work on playing him honest while depending on Paul Millsap and the Hawks’ forwards to keep Kings teammates from penetrating and receiving passes in the paint. Cousins will hack (league-high 3.6 personals per game), with about the same proficiency as he does drawing foul shots. As displayed late in the contest with Minnesota, he can be counted upon to lose both his cool and his mouthpiece at crucial junctures when things aren’t going his way. Last November, his prior visit to Atlanta was going quite splendidly (11 first-quarter points), when a wildly thrown elbow awoke the somnambulant Al Horford, sparking a Hawks run (without two Atlanta starters) from which Sacramento could not fully recover. Howard will continue working both sides of the rim on the low block, occupying Cousins and/or Cauley-Stein’s attention while opening up avenues for jumpers by Millsap (22.5 PPG, 5.0 APG through 2 games; 3-for-8 3FGs, NBA-high +21.0 per-game plus/minus) and drives for assists by Dennis Schröder (52.6 FG%; 11 assists and 2 TOs vs. PHI). Kent Bazemore (27.8 FG%, team-high 3.5 TOs per game) has been going through the motions out on the floor. To help him shake free of his early struggles, his teammates need to look for him out on the break when the inevitable live-ball turnovers are committed by Sacramento. It’s a similar deal in the case of Kris Humphries (1-for-7 FGs), who has been rebounding but not doing much more on the floor. These forwards will be needed even more to step up, given the news that Mike Scott will be missing several weeks of action for a non-surgical knee procedure. Mike Muscala and Thabo Sefolosha have each played superbly, but more consistent production from Bazemore and Humphries will make the Hawks all the more formidable over four quarters. Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s contest, Kings fans will wisely hold off until at least the All-Star break, to see where their team is in the standings, and who, from the GM on down to the assistants, remains in good standing. Winning may feel like a treat for Sacramento right now. But the trick always seems to be waiting right around the corner. Happy Halloween! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  8. “((COUGH)) Sorry! Just wolfed down too much Hot Chicken!” You’ll forgive the dinnertime product placement but, until very recently, you ever heard of Nashville Hot Chicken? Certainly, not this new-wave carpetbagger. Yours truly had achieved a fairly comfy existence for a decade or four, including a trip or two to honky-tonk tourist-trap Lower Broad, without ever hearing of this culinary contraption. Suddenly, Fast Food, Inc. is foisting this entrée onto consumers at every commercial-break opportunity. It’s a wonder that Dirty Grandpa isn’t gnawing on some NHC. But, is it real? Is it finger lickin’ good? And will it last long enough for me to care? One other smoky-hot thing you may not have been introduced to heretofore? The Sacramento (Hot) Kings, coming off a Staples Sweep of the Clippers and Lakers. The Kings are poised to win on back-to-back nights for the first time since this season, if they can defeat the Atlanta Hawks (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast), who just outlasted Portland last night. In so doing, Sacramento (18-25) will have won four in a row for the first time all season and, more significantly, would gain a foothold on the eighth-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. But are these Hot Kings real? Are they genuinely good now? Will the good vibes last long enough for anyone outside of Sactown to care? East Point’s Finest, former Olympian and Hawk All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s decent but brief NBA career was winding down when he finally got to taste the playoffs in 2006 (ending an NBA record drought) with Rick Adelman’s Kings. Led on the floor by Mike Bibby and an exiled Ron Artest, the Kings fell in the opening round to Nazr Mohammed’s and Mike Budenholzer’s San Antonio Spurs in six games. The Kings enjoyed brief stays in the postseason just twice in their first 13 seasons in the California capital, before Adelman’s arrival. But by 2006, an eighth-straight playoff appearance was ho-hum, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. In came former Lon Kruger and Mike Fratello assistant Eric Musselman, who could tell Coach Bud a thing or two about starting one’s head coaching career off on the wrong pedal foot. Out went Adelman, and with him went the last vestige of Sacramento’s playoff history. At least Reef hung around town for a little while longer. In the decade since, Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, and Ty Corbin have all been run through Sactown’s coaching grist mill. The franchise itself was oh-so-close to getting snatched out of town until two madmen (Mayor Kevin Johnson and team purchaser Vivek Ranadivé) collaborated to save the franchise from the clutches of the Pacific Northwest and also build a new palace that the team moves into next season. How nice would it be, though, to exit the dusty Sleep Train Arena with a couple playoff games? Don’t worry if you’re thinking that heads are getting too big here. Similar to the Pelicans of yesteryear, dreams of future championship contention can wait. Ranadivé has his fingers and toes crossed that by the time tax day comes around, his meddling maneuvers (including the reintroduction of George Karl to the sideline) and his team’s undying faith in the surly set of point guard Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, will bear fruit in the form of a first-round playoff series. And not just any series, mind you: one that brings Norcal’s spiciest hoop star, Steph Curry, and his Golden State Warriors back into town. By design, Sacramento’s offense has been Nashville hot (100+ points in 10 of their last 11 games) and the defense, like the aforementioned chicken, seems deeply coated in lard (100+ opponent points in 10 of their last 11 games). The one exception among the Kings’ opponents occurred last night, as Sacramento “held” the Lakers to 97 points. Coach Karl’s high-paced squad will graciously give up three-point shots (NBA-high 29.2 opponent 3FGAs per game). But if you’re hopelessly incapable of making them (LAL 4-for-25 3FGs yesterday), that’s not their fault. Despite having the touted “best big man in the game” in Cousins (4th in NBA in scoring and RPG, 1st in Usage%, 36-and-16 last night at Staples), the Kings are still spread a bit thin upfront. Lotto rookie Cousins’ and Rondo’s Wildcat cousin Willie Cauley-Stein starts by default, since he can dunk and swipe at everything resembling a basketball. Meanwhile, it might take a week before anyone realizes Kosta Koufos (10th in NBA in O-Reb%) swapped unis with Tiago Splitter. Quincy Acy and Rudy Gay have timeshared at the starting 4-spot (shifting Cousins back to center) and, well, just no. Karl, Vivek and the Kings’ competitive philosophy seems to be, “Hurry Up and Shoot, So We Can Hurry Up and Score.” A league-high 16.3% of Kings buckets (incl. 11.8% of their 2FGs) come with 18-22 seconds still left on the shot clock. It’s Reno Bighorns Basketball, writ large. Unfortunately for the Kings, the “Shoot” and “Score” roles get interchanged on many nights. Even yesterday, the Kings could not muster more than 6-for-20 from outside, even as guys like Kobe and Lou Williams presented as little resistance as possible. Defensively, the bigs will cluster around the paint, working like a co-op, striving to keep lanes clogged for 2.9 seconds at a time, and leaving it to Rondo (1.8 SPG) to provide a modicum of pressure to the opposing ball handler. While opponents are encouraged to swing the ball around and snipe away from the perimeter, Sacramento is susceptible to waving the white flag when said ball handler (0.86 opponent points per possession, just below Brooklyn and Portland; 48.0 eFG%, 3rd-highest in NBA) gets past Rondo (or Darren Collison) off a pick. The frenetic but limited frontcourt situation results in Sacramento allowing the fewest shots around the rim (34.5 opponent restricted-area FGAs) but a league-high 63.7% of those shots going in. Cousins (1.3 SPG, 2nd among NBA centers; 1.3 BPG) plugs just enough leaks to keep the Kings from giving up more than their league-high 107.9 opponent PPG. Perhaps, in a season like this, that’s all they’ll need. With last night’s win over the “Lackers,” DMC is back above-.500 (17-16) with the Kings in games played on the season. DMC was 9-6 last season, too, before he got injured at Vivek got crazy with Malone, but that’s neither nor there at this point. To stay winning, of course, Cousins has to maintain his on-court composure, such that it is, and not cost his team and himself by throwing ‘bows at sleeping almost-giants like Al Horford. Doing that back on November 18 marred his own 24-point (13 in the 1st quarter), 12-rebound performance at Philips Arena, and enlivened both Horford (mostly in the first half) and Paul Millsap (23 points, 16 boards) enough to halt, similar to tonight, the Kings’ incoming 3-game winning streak. The wet-nap that Dennis Schröder’s play reliably brought to clean up Atlanta’s messy starts lately finally dried up in Portland last night. His defense on Blazer guards was superior to Jeff Teague’s in the first half, but by the second half he proved a menace merely to courtside photographers, as he struggled to find the cup (3-for-13 FGs, 5 assists, 5 TOs). Teague Time (6 second-half dimes) arrived just in time to help Atlanta pull away, but Schröder’s limited floor time (under 20 minutes in the past four games) will be useful on the second night of a back-to-back against Rondo (11 points, 17 assists @ LAL yesterday; 12 points, 12 boards, 10 assists, 7 TOs @ ATL on Nov. 18) and Collison. In place of an injured Teague, Schröder contributed 22 points and 6 assists (1 TO) in Atlanta’s 103-97 win back in November. Millsap referred to his team’s reserves (9-for-26 FGs, incl. Schröder; 1-for-7 3FGs) as “elite” in the postgame commentary, and we’ll need to see more production from them tonight to know Sap wasn’t merely speaking with tongue-in-cheek. The defensive rebounding (14.3 bench D-Rebs per game, 5th in NBA) and steals (NBA-high 4.3 bench SPG) this month suggest notions of the reserves’ potential impact is more than a non-starter. The Hawks prevailed in that November meeting without not only Teague, but Kent Bazemore (3-for-6 3FGs @ POR, matching Millsap’s 23 points), as both starters rested ankle sprains. Baze and Thabo Sefolosha will be instrumental in thwarting the Kings’ fast breaks, disrupting outlet passes from Cousins and the guards to finishers like Gay and Ben McLemore, and to sharpshooters like Omri Casspi (7th in NBA for 2FG%, 4th for 3FG%) and Marco Belinelli. Forcing Sacramento to resort to Plans B and C later in the shot clock will slow the tempo and work to Atlanta’s advantage. The Kings need to take better advantage of opponents boarding the Sleep Train on the back end of back-to-backs. They’re 1-5 in those scenarios thus far, including losses to their last two opponents (New Orleans and Golden State) before embarking on their successful three-game road trip. Meanwhile, the Hawks (26-17) have won here in their last seven trips going back to 2009, have won 15 straight in this head-to-head series, and are 7-3 (incl. their last 3 tries) on the back half of back-to-back sets this season. Extend those streaks with sound play at both ends tonight, inch a little further up in the East standings, and who knows? Maybe we even can market the thing. “Atlanta Hot Wings”… sounds tasty to me! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  9. #NeverGetsOld A mopey and flustered team, yearning to find answers amid injuries and poor execution, saunters their way into tonight’s game at Philips Arena. Not only that… the Sacramento Kings will be there, too! After a smoldering 1-7 start, DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings are the ones doing the crowning lately, winning three straight home games versus Eastern foes. They’re in the proper mood to kick off their Southeast Division road swing by toppling the Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast) for the first time in a long while. The now 2-9 Nyets shook off their Hawks Hex last night, enduring a muffed final minute of play from the Hawks to notch their first regular-season victory over the Hawks in seven tries. That should definitely inspire the Kings (4-7), who have grown a bit tired of getting dabbed on (or, is that bapped on?) by the ATL. They haven’t defeated a Hawks team since Mike Bibby’s not-so-triumphant return to ARCO Arena in Feburary 2008. How long ago was that? Sacramento needed a huge night from Ron Artest (three and a half years away from the epiphany before his name change) and a little help from Shelden Williams, to pull away from a playoff-starved Hawks team led in scoring by Josh Childress. The Kings' last victory at Philips came in March 2006. So, yeah, it’s been a minute. It has also been quite some time since the Hawks (8-5) lost four straight games in an NBA regular season, as could be the case following tonight’s action. Midway through the fourth game of the Hawks’ six-game slide in March 2014 (and absent a streak-stripped Kyle Korver), coach Mike Budenholzer benched an ineffective Jeff Teague in favor of Dennis Schröder and Shelvin Mack, who promptly committed seven of Atlanta’s 26 turnovers as Minnesota cruised at home. Two-and-a-half years later, Teague and Kent Bazemore watched the Brooklyn game from home (don’t kick the furniture!) while nursing their sprained ankles. And while Schröder (10 assists, 3 TOs) and Mack could not be directly blamed for costly turnovers, the lack of disorganization on the floor last night without Teague around was evident, well beyond the season-high 20 turnovers. Veteran All-Stars like Paul Millsap (5 TOs) and Korver (2-for-6 3FGs, 3 TOs) looked lost on offense. And the speediness of Schröder could only be displayed in the halfcourt, as designed plays broke down and Schröder (2-for-7 2FGs, 1-for-4 3FGs) was often left to settle for drives into the teeth of the Nets’ defense for points. The inertial development of plays during possessions (91.6 pace, 3rd lowest of season; 88.8 pace vs. Utah) played right into Joe Johnson’s hands. And that was just the problems with the offense, as the Hawks put up a season-low 88 points and 96.1 points per 100 possessions. “The execution was terrible, the defense was terrible,” Millsap admitted after the loss last night. He should know. Bench man Thabo Sefolosha’s total of seven defensive rebounds equaled the cumulative total of frontcourt starters Al Horford, Millsap (plus-minus of -16), and Tiago Splitter. That’s never a good sign when Cousins (28.0 PPG, 3rd in NBA; 11.0 RPG), the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, and Kosta Koufos (12.1 O-Reb%, 11th in NBA) are in town after two days’ rest. While Cousins’ rebounding volume is down after shifting mostly to the 4-spot, he still ranks 7th in D-Reb% while taking time to shoot 44.8% on threes (take notes, Al-Star). The Nets were turning the ball over nearly as much as the Hawks in the first half, featuring some egregiously unforced errors. But unlike Atlanta, Brooklyn found the spigot (3 second-half player TOs). Eight of the Nets’ 10 participants got at least one steal, including Thad Young, whose five steals outnumbered that of the Hawks’ starters (three). The Hawks are forcing 18.7 TOs per game out of opponents within the friendly confines of Philips Arena (11.0 team SPG), but just 13.8 per game away from home (8.3 team SPG). Hopefully, the defensive energy will pick up a notch tonight. Meanwhile… turmoil? What turmoil? DMC knew what happened the last time he was forced to sit with an injury: by the time he returned last season, the coach he bonded with was canned and the carefully-crafted team mojo was gone. Forced to sit with an Achilles strain after two close losses to the Clippers and a 1-2 start to 2015-16, Cousins foresaw a McHaleian series of events unfolding again, when the Kings dropped four straight, the first two of the skid by double digits. The grass-cutting, snake-showing tension that simmered all summer boiled over upon Cousins’ return, after an 18-point home loss to San Antonio. This time last season, Cousins could tear into Michael Malone with his building frustrations, and he could count on Michael Malone throwing verbal heat right back at him. But instead of going in on Cousins for chewing out both he and GM Vlade Divac, Kings coach George Karl thought it better to clam up, head upstairs, and tattle. Karl pined openly for another shot as a head coach anywhere, and certainly knew what he was stepping into when he took the Kings gig almost a year ago. Yet essentially, Karl was all set to punish DeMeanUs Cussins for being DeMeanUs Cussins, marching up to Hotline Blinging team owner Vivek Ranadive to request his All-Star center be fined, if not outright traded. Still dreaming of a future with his pal John Calipari coming to Cowtown, Ranadive made it quite clear, to the NBA’s sixth-winningest head coach of all time, where his allegiances lie: if it’s down to He Goes or I Go, you may not like my response. Shut up, and coach. Ranadive runs his franchise like a NBA 2K competitor, but his Players Over Everything stance seems to have steeled the resolve in the Kings’ locker room, at least until the next dovetail. Cousins has since redirected his frustrations toward the Pistons, Nets, and Raptors. In the last three games, the Mobile Marauder has averaged 36.3 PPG and 10.7 RPG and shot 60% on three-pointers while building a kinship with the similarly-seething point guard Rajon Rondo. Remember when last season’s rumor mill had the Kings inquiring about acquiring Schröder and developing him into the “next” Rondo? Well, they’ve found their next Rondo and -- whaddya know -- it’s Rondo himself! Just when you thought Rondo’s menacing play was dead, a hand rises from the grave. Rondo ranks second in the NBA in assists (9.5 APG) and 7th in steals (2.1 SPG). Any schemes designed to get Rondo into foul trouble are good ones, as the alternate point guard options are of the shoot-first variety. Steals aside, Rondo and the returning Darren Collison (out last five games, hamstring) have to do a lot of gambling and scrambling to make up for a defensively-challenged roster. As a team, the Kings are 28th in blocks (3.5 BPG) and 24th in defensive efficiency (104.4 opponent points per 100 possessions). No other team, not even (formerly) McHale’s Rockets, have opponents converting over 70 percent of shot attempts in the restricted area (73.9 opponent FG%). That’s all with rookie Willie Cauley-Stein starting at center, and his status is up in the air after sustaining a head injury versus Toronto. Cousins almost has to stay at power forward for defensive purposes, as the alternatives (Rudy Gay? Caron Butler? Quincy Acy? Eric Moreland?) aren’t too hot. Koufos will likely get the nod if Cauley-Stein (70.6 FG%, because dunks) cannot go. Atlanta will need much more interior production out of Horford and a rested Tiago Splitter (12 minutes @ BRK) to counter Sacramento’s frontline play. For Gay, the best defense remains a good offense (post-rookie career-low 18.2 PPG, 46.7 FG%; career-low 0.2 BPG and -1.0 defensive box plus-minus). Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver have to make Gay pay whenever he’s lackadaisical on the defensive end. At the other end, Atlanta defenders have to close out properly on Sacramento’s 3-and-not-much-D players along the perimeter, including starters Gay and Ben McLemore, and ex-Spurs Marco Belinelli (36.5 3FG%, team-high 4.7 attempts per game) and James Anderson. The challenge will continue to be heightened as Bazemore remains out for tonight’s action. Cousins’ newfound range is likely to draw Millsap and Horford even further away from the rim than they are already, and it’s intriguing to see how Rondo and the Kings intend to take advantage of that. Whether it’s Teague (questionable to play), Schröder, or Mack handling the rock, their teammates have to create openings for their passes out of the paint. In particular, the bigs must roll to the basket with greater fervor if the Hawks are to successfully exploit the Kings’ defensive flaws tonight. After several games of futile execution, it’s time to acknowledge that Point Guard Drives Matter. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  10. Not exactly a GM opening, in case anybody around town is out there wondering. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/sources--kings-gm-pete-d-alessandro-finalizing-deal-to-join-denver-organizations-182810402.html ~lw3
  11. ...thanks to "Julius Serving"... ~lw3
  12. http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/11446305/sacramento-kings-trade-jason-terry-houston-rockets ~lw3
  13. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/sources-raptors-kings-rudy-gay-trade-000950446-nba.html The 4 position? That's a stretch. ~lw3
  14. @SportsCenter ~lw3
  15. A belated Happy Father's Day gift! ~lw3
  16. http://www.sactownroyalty.com/2013/3/1/4054472/kings-release-aaron-brooks ~lw3
  17. http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/8772913/sacramento-kings-suspend-demarcus-cousins-indefinitely-conduct ~lw3